If you follow limited-age cutting and don’t recognize the name Zen And Tonic, you haven’t been paying attention. The 4-year-old mare has been a force in the arena with young Lance Cooper, and they have maintained that momentum for the Lucas Oil National Cutting Horse Association (NCHA) Super Stakes.
Cooper, a 17-year-old non-pro based out of Weatherford, Texas, made his debut in Open competition at the Fort Worth event. While he admittedly struggled through some nerves along the way, he earned his ticket to the Limited Open finals, held Monday, April 16, with a 429.5 composite (216/213.5).
Zen And Tonic was firing on all cylinders, and Cooper’s help gave him some solid advice to get his head back in the game.
“I barely squeezed in the Limited [Open finals], but all the guys just said, ‘Show your horse like you’re in the Non-Pro,’” explained Cooper, whose lifetime earnings are nearing the $200,000 threshold. “That’s what I did, and it worked out.”
“He just got a little tense in that Open and didn’t show like he normally shows,” added Cooper’s father, Michael, who is an Equi-Stat Elite $3 Million Rider. “Austin told him to go out and show like it was the Youth finals and quit holding back. He did; he brought it.”
From draw one, Cooper mastered his anxiety and showed confidence in the pen. He and the mare set the bar at a 223 that none of the other horse-and-rider teams in the finals could match.
“It’s unbelievable. I really didn’t expect to show in the Open here at all, but it just fell in place. My mom and dad just said, let’s try it and have fun,” Cooper said, thanking herd helpers Austin Shepard, Steve Oehlhof, R.L. Chartier and his dad, along with Micaella Sabine, Davide Facincani and Shane Hall. “I quit [my second cow] with a minute left. They were yelling, ‘Slow down!’ But it all worked out.”
Bred by Greg Coalson, of Weatherford, Zen And Tonic (High Brow CD x Dual Citizen x Dual Pep) wasted no time proving her merit as a performance horse. At last year’s NCHA Futurity, she carried Cooper to a 222 for the Limited Non-Pro Co-Championship. The duo also finished 11th in the Non-Pro.
Prior to the Super Stakes, Zen And Tonic had amassed more than $55,000 in 2018 alone, securing Derby Non-Pro titles at the Abilene Spectacular, the Arbuckle Mountain Futurity and The Cattlemen’s. Including the $7,175 paycheck they garnered during the Super Stakes Limited Open finals, the mare’s Equi-Stat record surpassed $95,000.
“She’s been so good all year,” Cooper said, adding that “Snickers” has only gotten smarter since her runs at the Futurity. “She doesn’t hardly miss a cow at all. She has the confidence and all the time just wants to come out and do it.”
Cooper and Zen And Tonic were set to compete in the first round of the Super Stakes Non-Pro from set four on Tuesday, April 17.
Merlott (Dual Rey x Uno Tassa Mia x Smart Little Uno), owned by Jose Sigala, of Weatherford, finished as the Limited Open Reserve Champion after marking a 217 with Garrett Hampton, of Rogersville, Missouri. They pocketed $6,469 for the performance and will advance to the Open semifinals on Saturday, April 21.